Of all the foods, vegetables are the hardest for most kids to learn to like. This is not surprising. Vegetables have qualities that make them hard to learn to like.
- They're bitter. Human beings have a natural aversion to bitter tastes because bitterness is an indication of alkaloids, some of which are poisonous.
- They're low calorie. Human beings have an instinct to like foods that are high in caloric density. Our primitive ancestors had to guard against starvation.
These tips will help you to teach your child to overcome his natural aversion to vegetables and learn to love them!
Tips for Babies (and Fetuses!)
Eat vegetables in the last third of your pregnancy. During the last trimester, your fetus is getting a head start on learning the foods that it will be eating for the rest of its life. Researchers have found that if pregnant women eat carrots, when their babies are starting solid food, they already like the taste of carrots because they learned it in the womb. Eat the kind of food that you want your child to be eating for the rest of its life.
Avoid sweets in the last third of your pregnancy. Babies who are exposed to sweet tastes in pregnancy may have more of a sweet tooth later on. Kids who like and expect foods to taste excessively sweet won't like the subtle sweetness of carrots or cauliflower.
Breastfeed your baby, and eat vegetables during this time. The food you eat flavors your breast milk. Nature is teaching your baby the taste of the foods of his future. Eat a wide variety of vegetables during this time.
If you feed your baby formula, use protein hydrosylate formula. Protein hydrosylate formulas have the milk proteins broken down by enzymes. This creates a bitter taste. Babies who drink this formula are more accepting of vegetables later on because they have learned to like bitter tastes.
Feed your newborn baby tiny tastes of vegetables. You can give your newborn baby TINY tastes of vegetables, even before he eats solid food. You can do this by adding a teaspoon or two of vegetable cooking water or vegetable juice to his milk or formula. Remember, you don't want to add enough to dilute his milk or to add calories. You are just adding a smidgen of flavor.
Start solid foods early. Start feeding your baby solid foods at 4 months. There is no advantage to waiting. Doctors used to recommend waiting because they thought that early feeding would cause allergies. Now some researchers are finding that waiting actually encourages allergies.
Give vegetables as an early solid food. Early foods may have a special influence on your child's later eating habits. There is no reason to start with bland-tasting cereals like rice or wheat. They aren't teaching your baby anything about tastes. Start with vegetables, and work your way quickly to strong, bitter-tasting vegetables like spinach or broccoli.
Feed your baby a new vegetable twice a week for 6 weeks. It can take time for your baby to learn to like a vegetable. Give your baby a new vegetable twice a week for 6 weeks. If he still doesn't like it, wait 3 or 4 months and try again.
Be patient and positive. Healthy foods like vegetables can take weeks to learn to like. Junk food takes no time at all. Even as your baby spits out the spoonful of cauliflower, he is learning to like it.
Tips for Young Kids
Stop the junk food, especially sweets. Human beings have an instinct to eat high calorie food if it is available. Our primitive ancestors had to gorge on the high calorie food that they found. If they filled up on vegetables, they wouldn't have the stomach space available for the high calorie food. Eating junk food makes vegetables taste bad.
Serve vegetables for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The more taste lessons your child gets, the faster he will learn to like vegetables. Feed him vegetables at least three times a day, preferably more.
Feed your child a new vegetable twice a week for 6 weeks. It takes children of all ages up to 12 tries to learn to like a new healthy food. Wait for a few days between servings.
At the beginning, add fat or a tiny amount of healthy sweetener to the vegetable. Children have a natural liking for sweet and fatty tastes. You can add butter, sauces, or fruit juices to help your child like the vegetable.
Find good recipes. Plain vegetables aren't usually very tasty. Scout around the internet for highly rated recipes.
Serve a vegetable to your child when he's hungry. Hunger makes everything taste good! Start dinner each night with a vegetable appetizer.
Eat the vegetable yourself. Children, like most mammals, look to their parents to learn what is edible and tasty. Eat the same vegetable yourself, and comment on how good it is.
Play with your food. Make the vegetable friendlier by playing games with it. You can cut vegetables into fun shapes, or put pieces together into an animal shape. If your child has a stuffed rabbit, you can have him feed vegetables to the rabbit. He may absentmindedly eat them after he's done playing.
Talk about vegetables. Name each new vegetable, and comment on what it looks like and tastes like. New foods are scary to kids, and any information is reassuring. Skip the nutrition lessons, though. They make it seem like your child should be eating the vegetable because it is nutritious, and not because it's tasty. Although this may be true, your child will rebel if he knows this.
Keep a veggie and dip tray on the counter. In general, don't let your child forage in the kitchen. You should decide what he should eat. However, a tray of vegetables lets him satisfy his hunger and gain some independence.
Have all-vegetable meals. Once or twice a week you can have vegetable dinners. Give your child two or three dishes that have vegetables in them. They can have other ingredients too, but make sure the vegetable is one of the main ingredients.
Grow vegetables. Your child will be more likely to eat vegetables if he helped grow them himself. If you don't have room for a garden, you can grow some herbs or a tomato plant indoors.
Use fresh vegetables. Vegetables take a week or more to get to the supermarket. Fresh vegetables from a farmer's market or community supported agriculture taste much better.
Tips for Older Kids and Teenagers (You can use the tips in the previous section too.)
Help them ignore peer pressure. Kids brag about eating junk food. Your child may feel left out if other kids get chips and candy for lunch and he doesn't. Try to find genuinely healthy food that looks appealing. Try to elicit the support of other parents in providing healthy meals for all kids.
Teach them about nutrition. Don't preach, but do teach your children that some foods have extremely bad consequences. Diet is the #1 cause of death in modern cultures. You want to reassure your child that you love him and you want the best for him.
Teach them about the immediate consequences of healthy food. Most children have noticed that eating too much candy or chips makes them feel sick. Gently call attention to this.
Would you like a simple, easy-to-follow program that will teach your child to love healthy food? See my new book Teach Your Child to Love Healthy Food on amazon.com.
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